Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the famous Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia. This quaint little village is quite literally in the hills of Cádiz, with homes built into the rock and streets that meander back and forth along the riverbed.
You know when you see photos of a place and wonder if it could really be as good as it looks? I first came across Setenil online while searching for something unrelated and thought just that.
‘Wow, that looks cool! I’ll have to visit someday’ followed by ‘Is there more to see than what’s in these photos?’. That’s the problem with this ultra visual culture we live in. We’ve seen it all before.
It was a fleeting worry, my attention drawn to the stone galleries shading the narrow streets, the houses almost disappearing beneath the weight of rock. It looked like a fascinating place and I made a mental note to visit one day, another town for my growing bucket list.
I forgot about Setenil for a while. Went about daily life, travelled a bit, visited other distant places. Until out of the blue a friend called and suggested a daytrip. She only had to mention Setenil and I said yes. When she told me about the hike, I was up for it even more.
Two days later we jumped in her car with a couple of other friends and drove an hour and a half from Seville to our destination. A few missed turns later, we made it.
It was beautifully sunny, the sky blue and the January air fresh, but not cold. We grabbed our backpacks and set out to find the start of our trail.
The town centre was busy, it seemed most of the action happened here: two picturesque streets nestled under a canopy of rock. Unlike the empty streets we’d just walked down, people sat either side of the road wherever a free table in the sunshine could be found. Joyful chatter filled the air and cups of coffee were couriered across from the bar. The sound of metal chairs scrapping the ground mixed with calls to watch out as a car edged its way past the visitors enjoying a late breakfast.
We left the bustle behind and explored a few other streets before heading out into the countryside to stretch our legs. We did close to 15km through pretty olive groves and open fields, made a quick visit to a nearby village, Alcalá del Valle, and then headed along a narrower path along the river as we looped back towards Setenil de las Bodegas.
Back in time for lunch, we had a salad with some of the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever seen and a few meat dishes with a local Payoyo cheese sauce. Yummy!
As the sun disappeared behind the hill we got going again for a brief wander around the remainder of the town. We made our way up to the gift shop in a cave house and on to the Arab tower to enjoy the views. Making the most of the setting sun we had our dessert at the top, a local rosco and a flask of coffee I’d carted around all day.
In the end Setenil didn’t disappoint at all. It was all the pictures had promised and more. Not because of its winding maze-like streets nor its cave-homes buried deep in the rock, you can indeed see them in photos.
What an image cannot convey is the chill as you step into the shadows of a rocky street, the warmth of the sun on your back in open countryside, the cheery farmer waving as he chugs by on his tractor or the strange yet wonderful sensation of sharing coffee at the top of a castle.
The photos miss out the conversations, the laughter and jokes. They miss the locals who kindly gave us directions, the sound of running water or the crunch of gravel under foot. There will always be more than what you see in a photo. You simply need to know how and where to look.
What places have surprised you lately?